Tyler Jones, a Northville High School junior, will spend this summer in beautiful Morocco – but, he won't be there on a leisurely vacation.
Jones is one of 20 students across the state selected for an exclusive Arabic language program, funded by the U.S. Department of State. The state will grant $12,000 to Jones, who is the only candidate from Michigan selected to go. The other students chosen are mostly from the east coast.
Legacy International offers the program to Arabic language students to afford them the chance to learn the language in its own culturally-rich habitat.
An ambitious teenager, Jones' had been taking Arabic for a year at Oakland Community College when he found himself poking around the Internet looking for an opportunity to travel. Having found his opportunity, he asked his mother if he could spend six weeks in Morocco living with another family.
"She gave the natural motherly answer which is, ‘Of course not,'" said Jones.
Cheryl Jones' main concern was for her son's safety, being that Iraq is only 3,000 miles away from Morocco. However, she quickly learned that her son would be given the chance of a lifetime.
On June 12, Jones and the other students will meet up in Washington D.C. where they will be given a cultural briefing on the dos and don'ts of Morocco. Jones' journey begins on June 15 when he heads to Marrakesh to study the language and culture under the watchful eye of The American Language Center. Jones will live with a host family in Marrakesh for one month and another for a week. He will travel to Rabat, Fes, Esouria and Casablanca.
"I'm thinking I'm going to be a little petrified – living with a family that speaks an entirely different language," said Jones, who was notified last week of his acceptance. "It hasn't really sunk in yet."
Jones will receive 95 hours of formal instruction of Modern Standard Arabic, the most widely spoken language in the Middle East, and five hours of Colloquial Moroccan Dialect. Each day brings four hours of language study, as well as roundtable discussions with Moroccan students who are studying English.
"We'll help each other learn languages and talk about cultural differences," Jones said.
"This is the single best way to learn the program," Jones said of living with an Arabic speaking family. "If you don't adapt and learn the language, you can't survive."
"Marrakesh is known for this giant square and there and I'll get to interact with the vendors and assert myself into the culture and live among the Moroccans," Jones said.
At the end of the program, the students are required to give a presentation on some aspect of the Moroccan culture. Jones will interview Moroccans for his presentation and is considering speaking on the controversial Islamic law – Sharia.
Legacy International receives national attention
"The state department is a big fan of this program, and it's been getting a lot of publicity," said Jones. Last month, Legacy International was on "Oprah" discussing the cultural connection of American teenagers living in Morocco to understand the language.
For 29 years, Legacy International has been working in other countries to bring about peace and conflict resolution. The organization has equipped thousands of people worldwide with peace making skills in dealing with diverse groups.
"I think the language programs in schools are a little outdated," said Jones. "You can turn on the news right now and find the 10 top stories dealing with Middle Eastern countries. Having a better understanding of the belief systems and the culture is going to drive us into the coming years."
A brother's influence
Jones is proud of his older brother, Adam, 26, who graduated from Georgetown University and is now the executive speech writer for Michael McConnell, Director of National Intelligence.
Jones plans to study political psychology – a combination of political science and psychology – at either the University of Michigan or Georgetown University. After 911, the government created The National Counterintelligence Strategy to track terrorists globally. A political psychologist creates profiles of terrorists and their motives to help the Defense Department.
Jones hasn't had it easy researching this field.
"You can't exactly Google this stuff," he said. But a brother's influence has certainly stoked the fire.